The Suppliant Maidens ( Aeschylus ) - translated by G. M. Cookson

The Suppliant Maidens 


- translated by G. M. Cookson -

D R A M A T I S   P E R S O N A E 

PELASGUS , King of Argos 

Argos. A Hill rises in the foreground, and on the summit of it stand altars and statues of many gods. Enter the fifty DANAIDES, with their slave girls, and DANAUS


Zeus, the Suppliant's God, be gracious to us, pitifully behold us, for fugitives are we; where the blown sand-dunes silt the mouths of Nilus, there we took the highway of the blue, salt sea; there looked our last at the land of Zeus, her borders lapsed and lost in the Syrian marches wild, fleeing, not as outlaws banned for blood-guilt lest a people perish, but self-exiled. 

No way but this to escape abhorred embraces, marriage rites unholy that true love shuns; better far lands and unfamiliar faces than wedded and bedded with King Ægyptus' sons. 

As when hard pressed on the board a cautious player this piece or that from a threatened square withdraws, one move seemed best unto Danaus our father, counsel-in-chief and leader of our cause; one woe to suffer - and that the noblest sorrow, seeing we were compassed in on every hand - tarrying not, with the fleeting ocean billow to fly till our keel touched the Argive strand, whence we boast ourselves sprung, from the breath of Zeus' nostrils, and the touch of his procreant finger laid, for a dynasty's founding, on a king's daughter, even the gnat - tormented heifer - maid. 

What land but this would offer us a haven, where else the world o'er should we welcome find, having no arms but the suppliant's feeble weapons, boughs from the woodland plucked with white wool twined ? 

Realm, broad realm, brown land and sparkling water, Gods of the sky and holy ones of earth, denizens of darkness that visit men with vengeance, and in that Triad last named but chief in worth, Zeus, the Protector of travel-weary pilgrims, keeper of the threshold never crossed by crime, send soft airs to greet our maiden meinie, winds of welcome blowing from a sweet, calm clime. 

But the ungodly sons of King Ægyptus, bulls of the herd, ere they trample this fair ground - loamy levels, tilth and fallow land and pasture - for over ocean with their swift ship hound ! 

There let them meet with thunder-blast and lightning, wrath of leaping seas and spite of storm-swept rain; there let destruction find them when rough winter looses the lash of the loud hurricane; ere they climb loth beds to make of us their minions, minions of their pleasure and playthings of their pride; so kindred blood shall not serve to cool brute passion not by sweet exchange of hearts sanctified.

Youngling divine, I hail thee now, from beyond the sea thine aid I invoke; son flower-fed of the Mother Cow, quick with Zeus' breath and his handstroke. So of the dam with hoof and horn and enchanted body a babe was born, man-child made for mortal lot, Epaphus, the touch-begot. 

The naming of thee where long ago our Mother roamed this pastoral earth, and the calling to mind of a vanished woe shall bear witness in trials of later birth; and more sorrow yet may come into ken, though we know not how and we guess not when, like ours of to-day and hers of old; and these at long last shall Time unfold. 

To one that watcheth the wild birds winging, here at ease in his native bower, the suppliant song of an alien race, chance-heard, shall seem as the sweet, sad singing of Tereus' Daulian paramour, the nightingale hidden, the hawk in chase. 

Spring and summer for sorrow she grieveth under the green leaves weeping her pain and the life that was passed in homelessness; Spring and summer the story she weaveth of the child she bore by her own hand slain, and the wrath of a mother pitiless. 

I as the nightingale passioning for sorrow to Ionian music tune my pipe, and these soft cheeks feel the rain-worn furrow that on Nilus' bank grew round and ripe: For my heart hath learnt the meaning of tears, and I fill my lap with blossoms pale gathered with grief in the wood of wail, the better to hush these brooding fears that are fain to know to what end I fare from the land that lies dim in dust-veiled air, if there be any who hearkens or hears. 

Nay, but ye Gods of the bride-bed and begetting, hear me! Ye should be jealous for the Right! Grudge lawless youth, with the hot blood fretting, lore that perfects passion's neophyte! Set the brand of your scorn on lust that profanes, and mingle love's rite with austerities sweet! What is fiercer than war? Yet for war-weary feet there standeth an altar, no sacrilege stains: To what-so wight would from battle-carnage flee, a refuge awe owns and a court of deity, where red-handed Havoc halts and refrains. 

Saith the wise saw of old, "The purpose Zeus doth hold next to his heart no hunter brings to bay." All being in his sight flows in the main of light, the mirrored glory of his perfect day, where man the babbler with vain lips sees but the secular dark of unrelieved eclipse. 

The thing that he hath wrought with brow-nod of calm thought fallen, stands fast, and grappled, is not thrown. His counsels tread the maze of labyrinthine ways through quicks, through glooms with umbrage overgrown; and in that covert dark and shy bold riders check the rein, foiled is the keenest cry. 

From towered bastions of Hope he plucks Time's sons and tosses them to ruin. If one brace the mettle weariless of Gods for his duress, Pride pays with penal pangs, though throned in the holy place. 

So let him mark afresh how froward is this flesh, how the polled trunk for lust of me doth grow with many a stubborn shoot; how pricks to mad pursuit the unremitting goad, a curse, a cheat, a woe. 

So to music impassioned, sung high, sung low, with tears I have fashioned untuneable woe. 

Alack! 'tis like mourner's grieving. So sadly my quick spirit graces with groaning of death griefs that live, and I cry unto Apia's high places my broken speech to forgive, and falling down on my linen veil I mar with rents its fabric frail, tissue of Sidon's weaving. 

With amplest oblation to high heaven we come, for hope's consummation, when death's wind is dumb; but alack! for the woes dark-heaving, the billow whose path none traces, nor what strand on its crest I shall reach! I cry unto Apia's high places to forgive my broken speech, and falling oft on my linen veil I rend and mar its fabric frail, tissue of Sidon's weaving. 

Thus far the oar right well hath sped; And the bark flax-sewn to fend salt seas, with never a flaw in the following breeze nor winter storm to dread, hath constant been as my prayers and vows: and I pray the Father that all doth scan, here on firm earth, that he may send to well-begun a happy end; so I, that seed am of his spouse august, may flee the embrace of man and live unlorded and unwed. 

Zeus' daughter, vowed to maindenhead, look with a loving eye on me, that would keep chaste and pure as she, whose virgin arm the arrow sped and slew the Hunter in his lust whom Opis tremblingly outran! 

O maid unwon, a maiden grace with all the power in this sore chase, that I, the seed of Zeus' spouse august, may flee the violence of man and live unlorded and unwed. 

But, if these will not, then I will essay the sun-loathed courts of Death, where never a sick soul is turned away that wearies of this breath; and, since Olympian Gods no help afford, my corpse shall access find to Zeus, Earth's Lord, when suppliant boughs shall be decked with knotted cord.

Ah! Mother Io, thee wroth Gods amerce: and of the courts celestial I know that there dwell jealous wives who hate and curse; for waves run high when breezes stiffly blow. 

Then Right and Wrong shall be unreconciled; and Justice shall upbraid Zeus, that he honored not the heifer's child, whom once of old he made, if that at this late hour of time his eye be turned back when his own offspring cry: Yet, when we call, he hears- he hears though throned on high. 

Ah! Mother Io, thee wroth Gods amerce: And of the courts celestial I know that there dwell jealous wives who hate and curse! For waves run high when breezes stiffly blow. 

During the preceding chorus DANAUS has climbed to the top of the hill. 

Danaus.     Children, ye must be wise and circumspect: 
Remember, a wise judgment holp ye hither, with eld for pilot, safe and fatherly, across unruly seas. And here on land I will take thought for you and keep you safe, if ye set down my words in your heart's tables. 

Far off I can discern a cloud of dust, ever the voiceless courier of hosts, before the noise of wheels reacheth the ear, when axles pipe unheard. I can distinguish an armed mass, with shields and tossing spears, horses and chariots of war recurved. 'Tis likely that the Princes of this land have heard of us from messengers and come to be their own intelligencers. Whether they mean no harm, or sharp resentment speeds this stern array, all things concur herein; that ye, fair daughters, make this hill your seat; dear is it to the gods of festival, pastime and sport and peaceful rivalries. More strong that castle tower an altar stands, a buckler inexpugnably secure. Then with all speed ascend; and with you take in solemn ceremonial your wands wound with white favors that appeal to Zeus, the God of Mercy. To these foreign lords answering in such wise as shall move their mercy, with lamentations and all forms of speech proper to your necessity, and fit for strangers in a strange land, plainly tell the story of your flight, and how from blood 'tis wholly free. Let nought of boldness wait on your discourse: nothing of light or vain be seen, but downward looks, untroubled eyes: not forward in the telling of your tale, nor hanging back: 'tis easy to offend the race that dwelleth here. Never forget your cue is to submit: ye come as poor and needy suitors, aliens and exiles. Bold speech consorts not with the weaker side. 

Ch.     Father, thy cautions find us well disposed to prudent counsels, and thy wise precepts I shall with all solicitude obey. Zeus, our progenitor, watch over us. 

Da.     Stay not: lay hold upon the means at hand. 

Ch.     I will be with you instantly. O Zeus, pity us, or we perish.         They ascend the hill.  

Da.     May he look graciously on us: if it pleases him, all will be well. Call now upon this child of Zeus. 

Ch.     I call upon the radiant Sun, the saving source of health, to heal our woes, and pure Apollo once exiled from heaven; god though he is, he knows this earthly lot, and feels perhaps for frail mortality. 

Da.     May he in very deed commiserate and stand a ready helper by our side. 

Ch.     Which of these Gods shall I next invoke? 

Da.     I see the trident of the Isthmian King. 

Ch.     He gave fair passage to our vessel: welcome fair may he accord on land. 

Da.     And here is Hermes, after the way the Hellenes fashion him. 

Ch.     Well met indeed: I pray that he may prove a herald of glad tidings. 


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